I just want to start by saying that, If you’re shopping for a new pair of boots for hiking, make every effort to choose comfort over fashion. You must always select the pair that keeps your feet feeling comfortable and guarded over the trail.
In the end, your footwear needs to be able to get the job done on the trail, even more so if you’re planning on walking for long periods. Poor footwear can wreck your hike and keep you out of action.
You will find different varieties of boots may be purchased and are made out of differing types of materials. Probably the most widely used are leather and synthetic when it comes to hiking boots.
Whether you are a regular or infrequent walker the footwear you opt for hikes, rambles, flat walks, or even walking the dog is important, and whether to choose fabric or leather walking boots may ultimately depend upon two things:
Terrain and conditions – your final decision can make the difference between a comfortable walk and a walk that can wipe you out.
Personal preference - despite all of the practicalities known to you, this could quite easily override terrain with a shrug of the shoulders and an "it's what I like". After you've read this article, please take a look at some of the men's hiking boots and women's hiking boots we have on our website.
So what are exactly the differences between the two? In this article, we'll take a look.
For hiking boots, a cowhide is often used due to its durability and flexibility which is what you need when you’re trekking on rough grounds. However, there are different types of leather used and we'll now take a look at these.
Full-grain leather: Full-grain leather offers excellent durability and abrasion resistance and very good water resistance. It’s most commonly used in backpacking boots built for extended trips, heavy loads, and rugged terrain. It is not as light or breathable as nylon/split-grain leather combinations. Ample break-in time is needed before starting an extended trip.
Split-grain leather: Split-grain leather is usually paired with nylon or nylon mesh to create a lightweight boot that offers excellent breathability. Split-grain leather "splits away" the rougher inner part of the cowhide from the smooth exterior. The benefit is lower cost, however, the downside is less resistance to water and abrasion (though many feature waterproof liners, such as Gore-Tex (GTX)).
Nubuck leather: Nubuck leather is full-grain leather that has been buffed to resemble suede. It is very durable and resists water and abrasion. It’s also fairly flexible, yet it too requires ample time to break in before an extended hike.
Synthetic boots, on the other hand, are made with plastic including nylon, polyester, or what we call, synthetic leather. This material is lighter and more affordable than genuine leather. However, synthetic boots require waterproofing because it tends to absorb water. This is often done using a GTX lining. You can also find hybrid boots, which are made of part leather and part synthetic materials.
Leather boots tend to be slightly heavier and they may last longer, but this is only true if you care for them correctly. After use, they need to be washed, with occasional reproofing and conditioning of the leather.
Synthetic options need care too, but generally speaking, they can take abuse as the materials are less prone to drying out and cracking. When we take a look at the downsides, we should note that synthetic materials have lower resistance to abrasion and durability. Speak to experienced walkers who look after their leather boots, and many will tell you they can last for years.
The truth is that construction techniques have come a long way in the last decade, so the difference between these two materials in terms of durability is increasingly small.
A practical consideration for any pair of hiking boots is the weight. This can be more relevant for certain types of hiking than others. For example, if you are planning to do a lot of backpacking, a sturdy but ideally lighter hiking boot could be preferable.
In my experience, in terms of weight, as a general rule, the more modern hiking boots constructed using a mix of leather and more synthetic materials and textiles are typically lighter than the traditional Alpine style full leather boots.
There are exceptions on both sides of this equation but this has been what I have found overall. A fully synthetic pair of hiking boots will be lighter in weight, but you will lose out in other categories.
If you want footwear that’s in between the two, a hybrid style may fit you best. By combining synthetic and leather trims on your boot’s upper, the result becomes a combination of lightweight and durable materials.
Given that the traditional leather Alpine hiking boot is usually heavier, I have also generally found the traditional style of leather hiking boots provide more stability over varying terrain.
Again, there are exceptions and the overall construction of the whole hiking boot has a lot to do with this. However, that said, on a longer-term basis I think leather is a tougher material that molds better to the shape of a foot than synthetic materials.
It remains stronger for longer and with that in mind, I give this one to the traditional leather hiking boot.
Every time you buy a new pair of shoes, you need to break them in at first. Breaking in your shoes means that you have to wear them for a while. Doing this will help reduce the stiffness in your shoes.
Leather boots take time before the material loosens up. Meanwhile, synthetic boots are quicker to break in.
Whether you’re using leather, synthetic or hybrid boots, always keep your shoes protected from water and stains. Look after them with the appropriate cleaning solutions or leather cleaners, no matter which type of boot you go. Don't just toss them under the stairs, covered in mud, and pull them out 2 weeks later for your next hike.
This is one that I feel is a big one. It’s probably just good old-fashioned conditioning but it is hard to not think of hiking when you look at a traditional style leather hiking boot. This might seem weird to younger hikers who maybe prefer the flashy looking, colourful boots.
That style and design have been around for a very long time and so is just associated with hiking. When you think of the Alps and I think of a fine pair of leather Alpine hiking boots, yet we don't all go hiking in the Alps, do we?
The synthetic style boots broadly speaking aim for a more modern and technical look or aim to mimic the traditional leather style. You can of course get a very technical-looking hybrid that utilises both leather and textiles.
At the end of the day, this is down to personal taste and preference. For many hikers, it’s very hard to beat the look of a traditional leather hiking boot. It is pleasing to the eye and very much so looks the part.
It might seem like sitting on the fence, but I wouldn’t focus too much on what a boot is made from, what matters the most is that the boot you do end up buying suits your walking style and preferences and, crucially, that it fits your foot. What you will find, if you want a light boot, is that you’ll tend to find a boot with a higher or 100% synthetic make-up, but you may also find them less durable than a heavier, more traditional, 100% leather-upper boot.
Don't leave empty-handed! Simply enter your email below and we will send you a great discount on our products:
We hate spam as much as you do! Your details are never shared and you can unsubscribe at any time.